Of Course The Isle Of Man Motor Museum Has A Perfect Race Bike Collection
Photography by Will Broadhead
Between the hustle and bustle of a TT fortnight there are no end of sideshows and attractions to catch the eye of the thousands of visitors on the Island, each event and location looking to capitalize on the downtime between the racing. These range from sprint races, stunt shows, carnivals, and even an air display from the Red Arrows. In contrast to the more raucous entertainment on offer in the pubs, there are countless museums scattered across the island, concerning themselves with all manner of historical matters prevalent to island life.
Naturally for a place obsessed with racing and things that go fast there are a number of motoring museums to pique one’s interest, but I have to say that in the years I have been visiting I have never been to any. Stories from friends about quite small collections of machines or less-than-impressive exhibits had always put me off a little, but during my trip to this year’s TT I may have just stumbled on one of the island’s best kept secrets.
Nestled in the north of the island, a little off of the beaten track is the village of Jurby. Here you can find the Isle of Man’s prison, it’s airfield-based short circuit, and in amongst it the Isle of Man Motor Museum and TT Museum, and I have to say, it is marvelous! Invited to take a look around by curator Mike Jones, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t the towering expanse of building that makes up this relatively new museum’s generous footprint. The expansive new building looked like a proper construct for the history written here, and with a shop front displaying an ex-John McGuinness Honda I was excited to get inside to see what other treasures might be on offer.
What met my gaze as I walked through the entrance was a large exhibition hall, on two levels, teeming with two-wheeled history. A wall of motorcycles of different vintages caught my eye immediately—race bikes mixed in with daily riders—as well as a ground floor scattered with cars and other devices of transportation from the steam age up until the present day. Two further tiers of motorcycles, elevated above the museum floor, stretched through the centre of the space, with walls occupied by photographs, memorabilia, leathers, and other assorted bits of automobilia.
Of course, whilst there was an abundance of items to see, being TT-fortnight, it was the bikes that were attracting most of my attention. The aforementioned wall of machines was particularly engaging, packed as it was with ex-Joey Dunlop and Phillip McCallen race bikes, not to mention others with racing heritage earned on the isle. What was particularly fascinating was the different point of view it offered of these steeds that were, for the most part, just as they had been when finishing their last races. Battle scarred exhaust pipes and plastic could be viewed easily from beneath, telling the story of the lives of these pedigreed bikes, as well as spotting details like racers names etched into engines or carefully placed catch bottles and components usually hidden from view.
The other exhibits chart a great history of the motorcycle in general terms, from early pre-war machines from the likes of Douglas and Norton, through to the bubble-gum-colored Kawasaki Hx three-cylinders up to the comparatively modern Honda VFRs and Ducatis, and almost everything in between. Many bikes had the reassuring presence of oil catch trays beneath them and indeed a large percentage are runners, which is always pleasing to hear. The exhibits here are a mix of museum-owned pieces and bikes on loan from they generous owners, such as Joey Dunlop’s friend and former sponsor John Harris, who I had the pleasure of meeting as our visits coincided.
Pride of place in amongst the motorcycles though is the Bob McIntyre exhibition. McIntyre was the first man to break the 100mph-averaging lap time at the Isle of Man TT, during the ’57 event on his factory Gilera. He won a total of three TTs and, as well as his success on the island, produced silverware around the globe before his untimely death at Oulton Park at just 33 years of age in 1962. The exhibit’s centerpiece is a genuine factory Gilera, sourced by museum curator Mike Jones, that sits amongst a whole host of trophies, medals, and memorabilia from McIntyre’s career, kindly loaned to the museum by his daughter Eleanor.
Whilst this exhibit is the cherry on top of the 400 or so bikes on display, in reality every piece is a star in its own right. There are points of interest throughout the museum and I was captivated with every turn of the head. Whilst the number of exhibits is vast, the museum itself doesn’t feel cluttered, and the level of access is just fabulous. You can view the machines from all angles and whilst some exhibitions I have visited elsewhere have a stuffy, library-like feel, that is not the case here and after spending time with Mike chatting about everything from steam trains to race bikes, it’s clear he is a passionate motoring fan and this is reflected throughout the display pieces. In truth I hadn’t budgeted anywhere near enough time to visit, such was the strength in depth of this place, but I look forward to heading back there in July when I return to the Island and give myself a clear day to get around!